Community Update June 30, 2015

The Westwood Coalition invites you to an update on the goings on with plans to revitalize Westwood’s historic business district. Join us on June 30, 2015 at 7 pm in the Epworth Room at Westwood United Methodist Church. There are developments around “phase 1”, which includes the area from the intersection of Harrison & Epworth to the intersection of Harrison & Montana, around Town Hall grounds. Join us and get a close look at the ongoing process to act on the recommendations this neighborhood has made. Coalition_community_meeting_June_30_2015_announcement

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Business District Developments: February 18

The Westwood Coalition invites you to a community meeting on February 18.  We’ll share an update on developments since our report and recommendations in the fall and take a look ahead — what we and our represented organizations are working on now and what our next steps are for the business district revitalization.  Curious?  Want this update?  We’ve had many people asking us what’s next.  This will be a great chance to hear from Coalition representatives and special guest Elizabeth Bartley, Executive Director of the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 from 7:00-8:00 pm

Westwood Town Hall, lower level, at 3017 Harrison Avenue, Cincinnati, OH

Street parking is available nearby, as are lots on Harrison at Urwiler and on Montana at Harrison.

Connecting Dots and Comments

Over 110 people attended the Westwood Coalition’s June 12, 2014 community meeting. Some attendees left after the presentation portion and only fifteen people handed in comment sheets that night. However, more responses have come in via email and the website. An accompanying document provides more detail.

A preliminary glance at the comments and the dots demonstrates that Option 1, No Build, is undesirable. Options 3 and 5 got high marks. Option 3 has a low number of negative votes*, as indicated by the 0-1 and 1-2 columns. Option 5 has more negative votes than Option 3 but not by many. Both Options 3 and 5 have comparable numbers of positive votes, as suggested by the 3-4 and 4-5 columns. While we will continue to assess this input, it seems to indicate the compelling vision expressed by these options and attendees’ interest in significant change in the business district.

Note that Options 1 and 6 received twice as many negative votes as any other option (as defined by the two left hand columns, 0-1 and 1-2). Option 6 has 100 more votes than any other option, suggesting voting anomalies. The exceptionally high number of positive votes, completely out of line with the total possible votes that option could have received, supports this judgment even if exaggerated to some extent as others were. Voting irregularities, as witnessed by a number of people, included pooling stickers amongst attendees, putting multiple stickers in a section, and ignoring the criteria. Any reasonable person would point to this as a bold and crude attempt to sway the vote.

Setting aside Option 6 for a moment, given the voting anomalies, and averaging Options 1-5, there was an average of 330 votes per board. Each person was given six dots per board (36 in all), suggesting that 55 people cast votes. We understand that this is not accurate but it provides a baseline. Now consider Option 6: 436 votes were cast, a 31% increase over the other options, suggesting that 72 people voted. There are 272 votes on Option 6 just for columns 0-4. Remaining consistent with the experience of the other boards (330 votes each), the column labeled 4-5 would have gotten only 58 votes, not the actual 164 dots. Suffice to say, the voting irregularities on Option 6 must be considered in context and with the narrative remarks that are submitted.

Further, an analysis of all comments received to date demonstrates strong interest in Options 4, 3, and 5, in descending order, and limited support for Options 6, 1, and 2, in descending order, when considering respondents’ stated preferences in emails, on comment sheets, and via the website.

What remains is very significant community interest in a Westwood Square and a dramatic change at that. The Coalition will need to review this report and the community comments before making a recommendation, but shortening the list to two or three options is fairly straightforward and the subject of discussion at an upcoming Coalition meeting. Please see the accompanying document for more detail.

*“Votes” is used in this document to indicate meeting attendees’ assessment via dots on a criteria chart but should not be construed as a firm vote since the Coalition continues to receive comments and gather analysis. Also, “voting” irregularities skewed this process and, thus, it must be taken with a grain of salt.

Westwood Square Meeting Notes

Mary Jenkins, Westwood Coalition facilitator and representative of Westwood Civic Association to the Coalition, welcomed attendees, numbering over 110 people. She introduced Coalition members, thanked staff from the Westwood School, and covered housekeeping items. Ms. Jenkins described the meeting as a presentation to be followed by community input, focused wholly on the Westwood Square concept. Next, she reviewed the origin of the Westwood Square: an idea generated originally through community engagement in design charrettes following identification of neighborhood business district (NBD) strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The City allocated $10,000 for a Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) feasibility study. The design charrettes identified criteria for a Square which were validated through the Westwood Coalition’ community meetings over the past year. The June 12 meeting was an opportunity for DOTE staff and the Westwood Coalition to report on the study and invite community response.

Ms. Jenkins then described the intent for the evening: a DOTE-led look at six options, including no build and the original conceptual drawing shown in the media, followed by an assessment by residents of each of the options, based on identified criteria. She made several points before launching into a review of the criteria:
• Parking: None of the options would resolve the perceived parking shortage in and of itself. Parking will be addressed as part of an emerging multi-faceted plan for the NBD.
• Property: Neither the City nor the Coalition is promoting or planning to take property by eminent domain. Businesses in our NBD are treasures and people’s livelihood. The discussion about the Square is a consideration of future conditions and opportunities for the neighborhood and its businesses.
• Process: Westwood residents are driving the conversation. The City is contributing professional expertise. Residents are contributing knowledge and passion.

Ms. Jenkins briefly highlighted the conditions that the community is seeking to improve, and the desired attributes, in the NBD and specifically at the intersection of its Main + Main, or the heart of the NBD. These issues have been discussed and affirmed in various meetings and in the Coalition’s report in fall 2013.

Concerns
• Parking
• Public Safety
• A need for businesses more suited to the community’s preferences and needs
• Low business retention and vacant storefronts
• Limited places to socialize like restaurants, coffee shops and pubs
• Traffic volumes and speed

Desired Attributes
• A walkable, attractive business district
• Retail stores that offer a variety of consumer products and services with some emphasis on regional or independent shops
• A public or civic or green space
• The availability of nearby parking
• A number of options for casual and more elegant dining

Next up: Martha Kelly and Jeff Stine of Cincinnati DOTE co-presented on the six options considered during DOTE’s feasibility study which considered not only the viability of the conceptual drawing that has been in the news, but also several other possibilities given the opportunities and challenges of the NBD’s traffic and street configuration:

Ms. Kelly walked attendees through the criteria, detailed on the accompanying presentation. They include Safety, Neighborhood Quality, Economic Impact, Schedule/Coordination, and Cost. Each criterion has a number of components; for example, safety involves vehicular and pedestrian safety and other factors. Ms. Kelly explained that personal safety includes reducing places where a person might hide as well as crossing safety. She noted that the ability to get around the NBD includes bicyclists, pedestrians, drivers, and includes not only convenience but also reduced confusion.

Next, Ms. Kelly remarked that the creation of space should be considered in terms of its utility – whether usable, programmable space or simply green space, noting that individuals will have their own sense of preference based on perception of what benefit the space brings and how it might be maintained. In commenting on economic impact, Ms. Kelly pointed out that revitalization requires the community to ask if the investment in the Square creates conditions for economic sustainability. Commenting on parking, Ms. Kelly noted that some of the options make space for on-street parking but there should be opportunities for off-site parking as well, as demonstrated by some of the options. She cited traffic flow that is relatively light along Harrison as compared to ten years ago.

In terms of the construction process, Ms. Kelly commented that DOTE considers schedule, coordination, and cost, not among the criteria for the June 12 meeting. Some costs of a square such as this, like lighting and green space maintenance or programming, continue on beyond the life of the project itself, and are costs sometimes borne by business owners and local organizations. She noted that construction in phases is often possible and, depending on the project, can have short- and long-term impacts and benefits.

Before reviewing each option, Ms. Kelly noted that DOTE is open to variations and ideas and asked that comments come through the Westwood Coalition at revitalizewestwood@gmail.com or on its website. She commented that the $10,000 feasibility study funds are spent, but that DOTE could consider some changes to the maps and can address questions.

Please note that these descriptions are best viewed along with the images, and their context, in the presentation at https://revitalizewestwood.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/westwood-square-june-12-2014.pdf.

OPTION 1: No Build
As its name suggests, the No Build option involves no major reworking of intersections or traffic. However, this option could still create more welcoming gateways at either end of the NBD (like Montana & Harrison and Boudinot & Harrison) and make some modest improvements to the Main + Main at Harrison / Urwiler / Epworth. Further, there are opportunities for streetscaping, individual business or property improvements, signage coordination, lighting enhancements, bollards, and cooperative planning and cohesiveness. She noted the current long pedestrian crossings, pedestrian and traffic confusion, and sharp lefts at this intersection.

OPTION 2: The Original Small Square
Option 2 is the conceptual drawing that has appeared in the media and on the Coalition’s website. Depicted now in the slides to scale, it is 42’Wx144’L. It is surrounded by pavers and a 6’ sidewalk and includes a 22’x124’ grassy area. It meets the requirement of green space and might be landscaped or hardscaped but its year-round use should be considered. In the original drawing, on-street parking was shown, which would not be possible with turning angles for trucks. There could be confusion with close intersections and a mid-way pedestrian crossing would be needed. New development opportunities would exist between Henke Winery and the Square, with space facing the Square and a nice view pattern to the landmarks in the vicinity.

OPTION 3: The Large Square
This option includes a 148’ square. The intersection is smaller. It would require some building acquisition on both sides. There are opportunities for small development. It maintains the focus on the Main + Main. The space is sufficiently large as to suggest opportunities for programming the space, whether businesses or a center of community activity. It simplifies the intersection and maintains much of the area around the Square. The gateways to the NBD support this Square as its center. It reinforces the residential feel around the Square and creates an improved flow for traffic through the area.

OPTION 4: The Triangle/Bowtie/Mirror
This option would require acquisition of the old service station at the intersection. It would work well in tandem with a redeveloped performance space on the end of the Town Hall grounds. It creates a powerful presence. One of the spaces could be hardscaped while the other could be landscaped or green space. It ties the two spaces together and creates opportunities for programming and development. It would involve closing off Urwiler. Parking would be gained and additional parking will help to slow down traffic and aid in street calming. There are significant opportunities for the interaction of businesses with the space. Crosswalks would be simpler and could allow for alternating times for pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

OPTION 5: Central Harrison Square
This option creates a square such as the ones in Oakley or Hyde Park. Two paver areas would be flush with the street and the center space measures 60’Wx232’L, creating 13,204 sq. ft. There are significant development options and landscaping opportunities. Existing buildings along both sides of Harrison would be demolished under this option, creating new development area. It is the equivalent of four Bell (Madcap) buildings on one side and seven on the other, to give a sense of scale. Outdoor seating, cafes, and more are possible. It would impact residential properties as well, to create traffic flow and parking. Elder Alley would be vacated. The intersection is substantially improved and travel around the Square is reasonable. Angled parking would require even more space; this image depicts parallel parking.

OPTION 6: Town Hall Rotary
This option makes Town Hall the focal point, rather than the identified Main+Main. It creates a traffic flow via a rotary around Town Hall and highlights green space as the programmable area. Parking could be removed from the Town Hall grounds, moving it along the street. It is 2.4 acres, or 100,000 sq. ft. Development opportunities exist at the historic firehouse and some surrounding residential and commercial areas. Additional work would be possible at the Harrison/Urwiler/Epworth intersection. The main feature to consider is traffic flow from Montana. This option requires a one way rotary around Town Hall. It creates some concerns about traffic weaving as a driver enters the rotary from one point and wants to exit the rotary on the opposite side.

The six criteria used by attendees on June 12 are a condensing of the more extensive criteria shown in the accompanying presentation. They do not include cost or construction factors.

Criteria
1. Reduce speed / calm traffic while accommodating traffic
2. Define the neighborhood center, sense of place, usable civic space
3. Increase green space
4. Improve intersection safety
5. Improve pedestrian safety / connectivity
6. Foster economic development, provide business development potential

Attendees then went into the foyer and reviewed the six images, talking with friends and neighbors and asking follow up questions. Each person received 36 dots to apply to charts listing each option and the six criteria under consideration. Details of that process and the distribution of dots and comments will be added to this site this week.

Economic Baseline and Potential Impact: Moving Forward

On April 16, the Westwood Coalition hosted a community meeting. Guest speakers Elizabeth Bartley and Kathleen Norris gave the engaged audience a lot to consider about the current state and potential revitalization of Westwood’s historic business district. Slides from the presentation appear in the previous post. The Coalition welcomes comments on this post or via email at revitalizewestwood@gmail.com.

Ms. Bartley (School of Planning, University of Cincinnati) offered a research-based presentation on the business district and Madcap Puppets as catalyst for revitalization. She started with demographics of Westwood, including declining population, slow growth in property values, and a hollowing out of the middle class. Then she noted that this is not an unusual set of circumstances and asked what Westwood will do with its assets and opportunities. Next, Ms. Bartley answered “who is Westwood?” with a number of facts:
– Westwood has a sizeable concentration of families and people in their productive or working years.
– There are more marrieds with children, fewer singles, and fewer elderly than Cincinnati generally.
– In 2010, the median Westwood property value was $115,162 while Cincinnati’s median was $129,700.
– Westwood has a larger concentration of affordable housing that’s not in decline.
– In the area surrounding the historic business district and in Westwood, generally, there is quality housing stock.
– An inventory of businesses in the historic neighborhood business district shows speciality businesses, solid services, and regionally known and attractive businesses, many of which are locally owned.

Next, Ms. Bartley noted the benchmarking for revitalization, including:
– Community and stakeholder participation and investment
– Public and private partnerships
– Retail trade
– Catalysts like Madcap Puppets
– Pride of place

She noted that the Westwood Coalition has generated very strong community engagement, now acknowledged by city officials as a model of civic engagement. She pointed to the strong public-private partnerships, as evidenced by the Coalition and city planning processes, the organizations and businesses participating in the Coalition, and, notably, the city and private funding of Madcap’s renovation, with City Council’s commitment of $500,000. Ms. Bartley pointed to the long-time pride of place and neighborhood activation evident in recent years, commenting on the visible, vital sense of place.

Next, Ms. Bartley discussed the potential economic impact of Madcap Puppets as it brings 40,000 people a year to Westwood. Consumer spending associated with arts and cultural venues is $26 per person for locals and $40 for non-local visitors. This is in addition to spending specifically related to the venue, like ticket sales. This means that Madcap is expected to bring $1.2M in spending per year to Westwood’s historic business district. Ms. Bartley went on to note that Madcap performances will largely beout on the weekend and that new businesses will be needed to meet event attendees’ needs. She also pointed out the tax revenue associated with the anticipated growth in business activity.

Then Ms. Bartley briefly discussed the importance of the Coalition’s revitalization strategy, based on the neighborhood’s strengths and character and informed by the community’s answers to the questions “who are we?” and “what do we want?” She gave attendees food for thought including the importance of the gateways into the business district and the critical importance of focusing on the middle zone (or Main+Main) first. Ms. Bartley ended her remarks with points about the character of the historic business district: the civic heart, a walkable, compact area, good storefronts, good attractor businesses, and gaps and vacancies as opportunities.

Next, Kathleen Norris of Urban Fast Forward spoke about the way forward. She asked a number of attendees what they want from this meeting and from revitalization. Comments included a better sense of the timeline, safer streets, reductions in evidence of drugs, more police presence, people out on the street and shopping and socializing. concerns about failing businesses, and concern about the Heartbeat Motors building.

Ms. Norris pointed out ways to address the noted concerns, including traffic flow, eyes on the street, and busier shops. All of this will reduce robberies and burglaries and will strengthen community. She emphasized that change won’t happen overnight and will require ongoing engagement. She, too, spoke of the importance of a plan, but cautioned that the community shouldn’t take forever; a lot of the groundwork has been done.

Ms. Norris referred to Madcap Puppets as an anchor organization and encouraged attendees to see revitalization radiating out from there. She noted that the Coalition and businesses should understand who those 40,000 Mapcap visitors are and plan for them. Further, she commented, a business cannot thrive on weekend business alone, so she challenged attendees to use our own business district. Ms. Norris cited the competition from the Cheviot restaurant and bar district and shops and big box stores on Glenway but she emphasized that this neighborhood can support its own business district and approach. She commented on the benefit of volume and competition, remarking that, for example, Henke Winery would benefit from two more restaurants in the area.

In response to a question about the causes of negative impacts on neighborhoods like this one, Ms. Norris cited the historic shift to suburbia and the automobile. She noted that crime follows; it doesn’t lead. She also pointed to the trend away from suburbia and to urban centers and neighborhoods, preferred by young professionals.

Next, in response to a comment about problems caused by movement of residents from Over-the-Rhine to Westwood, Ms. Norris remarked that every neighborhood thinks it has riff-raff and it’s not a direct correlation, in any case. She encouraged Westwood residents to look to positive drivers and make community-building decisions, avoiding narrow-mindedness and futile dwelling on the past. She said that it’s not an unmovable issue and encouraged attendees to work on it in positive ways. She also remarked that Westwood has fewer young people than Cincinnati, generally, which she described as doom if the middle age demographic remains predominant. She pointed to young professionals and said that’s exactly what Westwood wants — young people who want to make a home in Westwood and who are engaged and community-minded.

Next, Ms. Norris pointed to Westwood assets, saying that we have a catalyst, space, tools, capacity, and community redevelopment and asset organizations. Illustrating her point with a story, Ms. Norris commented that a community has to support the heart of its neighborhood. She encouraged residents to be clear about what it wants, as has been happening through the Coalition’s efforts.

An attendee asked for clarification about housing values, noting the 2010 census data, and commenting that the values continued to decline. Ms. Bartley noted that for the purpose of Madcap’s economic impact study, the 2010 data are important for baseline.

In response to a comment about Westwood’s strategic plan, the speakers clarified that a neighborhood-wide strategic plan is different from a revitalization plan for a specific business district and requires a different approach.

An attendee spoke of her dislike for the form-based code and commented on the Ruehlmann building, expressing concern about some tenants.

Ms. Norris commented that neighborhoods were ignored, nationally, for fifty years while the suburbs flourished. She emphasized that it will take time, collaboration, and effort for the business district, and urban neighborhoods, generally, to turn around. She pointed again to the importance of welcoming young professionals, families, and the elderly to Westwood, noting that the value of properties in Westwood is attracting professionals.

An attendee asked about mechanisms for attracting private funding. Ms. Norris and Ms. Bartley both pointed again to the importance of a revitalization plan, such as those in the works in Westwood now. Ms. Norris pointed to the recent commitment of $500,000 by the City of Cincinnati to Madcap Puppets, as part of a public-private funding partnership. She commented on the Westwood Coalition’s commitment to and active engagement in revitalization planning, noting that one can see positive momentum in Westwood and remarking on the work Westwood has done to express what it wanted for its neighborhood business district and gaining more neighborhood control, as a result.

A question about the old firehouse at Epworth and Junietta prompted an introduction of Gerald Fortson from Cincinnati’s Trade & Development department. He announced that the City is on the verge of issuing a Request for Proposals that includes criteria intended to show respect for this historic building in the heart of the neighborhood business district. Further, Mr. Fortson noted that Westwood Historical Society and Westwood Civic Association have been invited to have a representative review proposals for the firehouse.

Remarking again that revitalization takes time, Ms. Norris illustrated this point by offering the example of Over-the-Rhine where it took three years and buckets of money to develop thirty five residential units and eight or ten stores. An attendee who is a real estate developer noted that there is tremendous value in a rising market.

Ms. Norris ended her remarks by saying that the important thing to keep in mind is that Westwood got into the revitalization mix several years ago. This progressive movement is creating momentum and moving Westwood forward. She urged the Coalition and the community to go after what it wants and to recruit strategically.

April 16: Current State, Necessary Conditions, Impact

As announced previously, the Westwood Coalition invites residents to a community meeting on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at Westwood Town Hall. We will take a look at the current state of the historic business district and the conditions necessary for vitality and development. With presenters Elizabeth Bartley (School of Planning, University of Cincinnati) and Kathleen Norris (managing principal, Urban Fast Forward), we’ll look at the historic business district’s current and potential community and economic activity, the importance of place, the promise of public-private partnerships, and moving from here to there.

Also, note that in late May, the Coalition will host a community meeting focused exclusively on gathering community comments on the Westwood Square as the feasibility study moves forward. Watch for that announcement shortly!

Westwood Ordinance Assigned to City’s Neighborhoods Committee

At its meeting on January 15, 2013, Cincinnati City Council assigned the ordinance submitted by Charles C. Graves, III, Director, City Planning and Buildings, to the Neighborhoods Committee and as recommends by the Westwood Coalition following months of community input. It reads as follows:

23-201400041 ORDINANCE, amending the official zoning map of the City of Cincinnati to reflect the rezoning of that portion of the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati generally within the compact walkable area surrounding the Neighborhood Business District, as identified in Plan Cincinnati, from various conventional zoning districts in Title XIV of the Cincinnati Municipal Code, “Zoning Code of the City of Cincinnati,” to various transect zones set forth in Cincinnati Municipal Code Chapter 1703, “Form-Based Code.”

A public hearing will be held before the Neighborhoods Committee on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. in Council chambers.